- President Donald Trump is at the center of an impeachment inquiry over his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, and possibly using military aid as a bargaining chip.
- A whistleblower complaint filed against Trump in August claimed the president was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
- Trump had ordered his administration to withhold a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call.
- The White House’s notes of the call do not show Trump bringing up military aid explicitly, but they confirm Trump brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky to do him a “favor, though” by investigating Biden and discrediting the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
- And last week, Trump admitted to reporters that he pressured another foreign leader – Chinese president Xi Jinping – to also investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China.
- On Sunday, the attorneys representing the original intelligence whistleblower announced they are now representing “multiple” whistleblowers with knowledge of Trump’s conduct with Ukraine.
- Scroll down to read more about all the major players in the Trump-Ukraine scandal.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump is at the center of an impeachment inquiry over his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, and possibly using military aid as a bargaining chip.
An explosive whistleblower complaint filed by an anonymous intelligence community official in August claimed Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump ordered his administration to withhold a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call.
While the White House’s notes of the call show the US president made no direct mention of offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s assistance in probing former Vice President Joe Biden, they confirm Trump brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky to do him a “favor, though” by investigating Biden and discrediting the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
A series of text messages that were traded between Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, former US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and the US chargé d’affairs in Ukraine Bill Taylor, reveal that the men explicitly and repeatedly discussed the possibility that Trump wanted to dangle US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for politically beneficial investigations.
The impeachment inquiry is moving fast. The intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson and Volker have already testified in closed-door sessions to the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees. The panels have also issued subpoenas to the White House, Giuliani, and Secretary of State and Mike Pompeo, among others.
On October 6, the attorneys representing the first intelligence community whistleblower announced they are also representing a second intelligence official who wants to come forward, and who has firsthand knowledge of Trump’s alleged misconduct connected to Ukraine.
Here are all the major American and Ukrainian officials in the Trump-Ukraine scandal:
President Donald Trump
The pressure came from the very top. Trump has long been fixated on the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 race and did so in order to help the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
He also believes the Obama administration – Biden specifically – strong armed the Ukrainian government to oust its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, while Shokin was investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company whose board Biden’s son sat on until recently.
Despite Trump’s allegations, there’s no evidence that the Bidens engaged in wrongdoing. That’s been confirmed by both US and Ukrainian government officials.
Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to work with Giuliani to investigate the Bidens eight times during their phone call. He’d ordered the US to withhold security assistance just days before that conversation.
Speaking to reporters in early October, Trump doubled down in calling for Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son and added that China should do the same.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Zelensky, a former comedian and TV star, was elected as Ukraine’s president in April after he ran on an anticorruption platform.
Trump pressured Zelensky to probe both CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm retained by the DNC to investigate Russia’s hack of its servers in 2016, and the Bidens during his July phone call.
Ukraine is heavily reliant on US military aid in its fight with Russian-backed militants.
Zelensky has tried to distance himself from the ongoing controversy engulfing at the White House.
At the United Nations General Assembly meeting in late September, Zelensky denied that he felt pressure from Trump to investigate the Bidens, and emphasized that he did not want to be involved in American elections.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
As former President Barack Obama’s top deputy, Biden served as the administration’s point-person for US-Ukraine policy and relationships.
When he called for Shokin to be fired, Biden represented the US’s official position on the matter, one that was shared by many other Western governments and anticorruption activists in Ukraine, according to The Associated Press.
However, Trump and Giuliani allege that Biden pushed for Shokin’s ouster because he wanted to stymie the investigation into Burisma.
But there’s a loophole in those claims. Government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates say Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Biden even stepped into the picture, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Biden has called Trump’s push to have him investigated by a foreign power disturbing and said it shows Trump is unfit for office.
Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s eldest son, served on the board of Ukrainian oil and gas company Bursima Holdings from 2014 to 2019 providing legal advice and receiving a reported salary of around $50,000 a month.
Burisma was the subject of an investigation from the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office into whether its founder Mykola Zlochevsky engaged in tax evasion, money laundering, and corruption.
When former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin assumed the role in 2015, the investigation into Burisma was largely dormant, and there is no evidence that Hunter was personally involved in any wrongdoing.
Hunter broke his silence in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired on Tuesday, in which he acknowledged using “poor judgment” in joining Burisma’s board, but says he “did nothing wrong.”
“What I regret is not taking into account that there would be a Rudy Giuliani and a president…that would be listening to this ridiculous conspiracy idea,” he said.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer
Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer and not a government official. He has functioned largely as Trump’s key envoy in the Ukraine controversy, and he used his connections to Trump and other US government officials to push Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.
The whistleblower complaint said – and Giuliani has acknowledged – that Trump and State Department officials enlisted him to work with the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.
Giuliani was mentioned 31 times in the complaint and described as a “central figure” in the administration’s efforts to encourage Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, which included serving as an “envoy” on the matter and meeting with an aide to Zelensky, Andriy Yermak.
Giuliani, meanwhile, has defended himself by saying he only got involved because Volker asked him to. On October 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York have seized Giuliani’s bank and other business records in connection with the investigation into two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman
Parnas and Fruman, two of Giuliani’s business associates, who allegedly helped him dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden have been arrested and charged with violating campaign finance laws, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are Soviet-born and were under investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. They are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later today, the report said.
It’s not yet clear what the charges against them entail and what they are specifically accused of doing. The Journal reported that both Parnas and Fruman have donated to Republican campaigns and gave $325,000 to the main pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, in May 2018 through a company called Global Energy Producers.
Vice President Mike Pence
Pence wasn’t a party to the call, but has still been roped into the Ukraine saga.
Trump used Pence to convey to Zelensky that the US would withhold military aid to the country while demanding that it aggressively investigate corruption, the Washington Post reported.
The Ukrainian government officials understood that Trump’s demand to investigate corruption was connected to his desire for them to look into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son ahead of the 2020 election, the Post said.
Trump’s direction to Pence came shortly after his July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
Pence addressed the issue of corruption in Ukraine during a diplomatic trip to Poland in August, before the public learned of the whistleblower’s complaint and after it was reported that the US was withholding aid from Ukraine.
The day after he met with Zelensky during the trip, Pence was asked about the substance of their conversation. He said they did not discuss Biden but said Trump had asked him to convey to Zelensky that the US has “great concerns about issues of corruption.”
Pence said that before investing more taxpayer money in Ukraine, “the president wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine, and that’s an expectation the American people have and the president has expressed very clearly.”
Pence received a transcript of the phone call before his diplomatic trip, but officials close to him said he did not review it closely and had no knowledge that Trump brought up the Bidens during the conversation.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton
Bolton served as Trump’s National Security Advisor beginning in April of 2018, and was pushed out last month after a tumultuous tenure during which Bolton, a notorious war hawk, broke with Trump on a number of foreign policy issues.
The New York Times recently reported that Bolton was incredibly concerned by Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden that he alerted the White House counsel’s office to the matter – and make sure they knew he wasn’t involved.
That revelation came out in the congressional testimony of Dr. Fiona Hill, who previously served as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs, and told Congress that she was dispatched to inform the NSC’s lawyers that Bolton was not part of Giuliani’s pressure campaign on Ukrainian officials.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Pompeo, Trump’s former CIA director, is his most trusted official on foreign policy matters.
After initially denying that he had knowledge of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, Pompeo later admitted to being a party to the conversation.
In addition to misrepresenting his involvement in the Trump-Zelensky call, Pompeo is also accused of obstructing the congressional investigation into the matter.
In September, Pompeo sent a letter to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees, telling them their requests to depose department officials connected to the whistleblower’s complaint are “not feasible” and “do not provide adequate time for the Department and its employees to prepare” for testimony.
In turn, Democratic lawmakers accused Pompeo of “intimidating Department witnesses” from testifying and warned that it “will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.”
Pompeo has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as a “silly gotcha game,” the Associated Press reported.
“When I talk to your foreign minister he pressures me all the time,” Pompeo said to a Greek reporter in Athens. “It is totally appropriate. Nations do this. Nations work together. They say ‘Boy, goodness gracious if you can help me with X, we’ll help you achieve Y.’ This is what partnerships do. It’s win-win.”
Attorney General William Barr
The White House’s notes of Trump’s call with Zelensky show that Trump encouraged Zelensky to with both Giuliani and Barr to investigate the Bidens and the origins of the Russia probe.
Barr was “surprised and angry to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani” in the call, the Associated Press reported.
Later, the Washington Post reported that Barr’s involvement went deeper than first met the eye – and that he had actively solicited foreign help in a probe about the origins of US investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The report said Barr had already made overtures to British intelligence officials and traveled to Italy, where he and John Durham, the US attorney in charge of investigating the Russia investigation’s origins, asked senior Italian government officials to assist with Durham’s work. The report said it was not Barr’s first trip to Italy to meet with intelligence officials.
Barr also reportedly called Trump and encouraged him to tell Rudy Giuliani to tone down his wild TV appearances, according to The Wall Street Journal.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone
As Trump’s White House counsel, Cipollone is leading the fight against the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry – and has told House Democrats that he refuses to participate in their inquiry.
He recently sent an explosive letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the three House committees spearheading the investigation that Trump and his administration would not cooperate with the investigation because the administration viewed it as “partisan and unconstitutional.”
“In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances,” the letter said.
The president also implicated US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in the Ukraine saga, claiming recently that Perry had encouraged him to call Zelensky regarding Burisma.
“Not a lot of people know this but, I didn’t even want to make the call,” Trump said on a call with House Republicans, a source familiar with the comments told Axios. “The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquefied natural gas] plant.”
Following Axios’ report, Perry acknowledged that he “absolutely” encouraged the president to call Zelensky “multiple times,” but not about the Bidens.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence
Schiff, an experienced committee chair and ranking member, is taking the lead on the impeachment inquiry, calling witnesses and subpoenaing documents as part of the investigation.
So far, his committee has heard testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and closed-door testimony from Volker and Atkinson.
The intelligence committee has also issued subpoenas to Giuliani and Pompeo.
It recently surfaced that the whistleblower approached a committee aide with their concerns about the call before filing an official complaint. The whistleblower gave the aide a “vague” account of their allegations, The New York Times reported, and the aide followed committee rules and advised the whistleblower to hire a lawyer and file an official complaint.
Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker
Volker worked in an unpaid, volunteer capacity as the US’ Special Representative to Ukraine. But he got more than he bargained for when he was swept up in the Ukraine scandal after being named in the whistleblower’s complaint.
According to text messages turned over to Congress, Volker played an active role in setting up communications and meetings between Giuliani and Yermak, Zelensky’s aide.
In written testimony submitted to the House Intelligence Committee, Volker emphasized that “at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.”
But the text messages paint a different picture and show Volker was aware of Trump’s intentions from the get-go and did not raise any concerns about the matter.
“Heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces trump (sic) he will investigate/’get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker wrote in an August 30 text message to fellow diplomat Bil Taylor, seemingly implying that a meeting between Zelensky and Trump would be contingent on investigations.
Volker has since resigned from his position as Special Envoy to Ukraine and from the McCain Institute.
Bill Taylor, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Ukraine
Bill Taylor, a career diplomat, served as the US ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush’s administration from 2006 to 2009, and was appointed as the chargé d’affaires for the US embassy in Ukraine earlier this year.
In the text messages submitted to Congress, Taylor repeatedly raised concerns that Trump was leveraging a meeting with Zelensky and military aid in exchange for “investigations.”
After Trump canceled a planned visit to Warsaw, Poland, on August 30, where he was set to meet with Zelensky, Taylor “sought clarification” on the conditions for the Ukrainian president to visit the White House the next day.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and [White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor wrote to Sondland in a September 1, exchange.
In another exchange on September 9, Taylor wrote to Sondland saying that Trump halting military aid to Ukraine has “shaken their faith in us,” which he said was his “nightmare scenario.”
Taylor later added that he thought that Trump’s decision to “withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign” is “crazy.”
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland
Sondland made a fortune as a successful hotel executive and entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest and became a generous donor to Republican politicians – which included giving $1 million to Trump’s 2017 inaugural fund.
In 2018, Trump nominated Sondland to be the US’ ambassador to the European Union.
Giuliani, Volker, and Sondland all exchanged messages regarding Giuliani’s communications with Ukrainian officials.
In one exchange that took place on July 21, Taylor texted Sondland saying Zelensky was “sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”
Sondland replied: “absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.”
After Taylor expressed concern in a September 1 exchange that withholding the funds in exchange for an investigation was “crazy,” Sondland responded, “the president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
“The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign,” Sondland added.
But the Washington Post reported that in the five-hour gap between Taylor’s message and Sondland’s response, Sondland and Trump spoke on the phone, during which Trump directed Sondland to specifically say that there was no quid-pro-quo, even though Sondland wasn’t sure of it himself.
Former US ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch
Masha Yovanovitch, a veteran diplomat who worked in the US Foreign Service for over three decades, served as the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 to May of 2019.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump pushed her out of the administration when people close to him – particularly Giuliani – lamented that she displayed an “anti-Trump bias” and got in the way of his efforts to persuade the Ukrainian government to open the investigations Trump wanted them to pursue.
Now, Yovanovitch is a key witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
She appeared for a closed-door joint testimony session before the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees on October 11, during which she reportedly told the committees that she was fired on “unfounded and false” grounds, and warned that “today we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within.”
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson
As the intelligence community’s chief watchdog, Atkinson was the one who first received the whistleblower complaint and conveyed it to Maguire.
Atkinson confirmed that the whistleblower complaint was “credible” and rose to the level of an “urgent concern” in a letter to Maguire.
He determined that in addition to potentially violating campaign finance laws, Trump’s conduct could also open him up to foreign blackmail.
Specifically, he wrote to Maguire: “…. alleged conduct by a senior US public official to seek foreign assistance to interfere in or influence a federal election would constitute a ‘serious or flagrant problem'” and would also “potentially expose such a US public official to serious national security and counterintelligence risks with respect to foreign intelligence services aware of such alleged conduct.”
Atkinson and Maguire referred the complaint to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, but the department determined that Trump’s request to Zelensky did not constitute a “thing of value” and therefore did not violate campaign finance laws.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire
Maguire has served as acting DNI since August and was one of the first officials to become aware of the complaint.
He was criticized for taking the complaint first to the White House and not to Congress. He appeared in open session before the House Intelligence Committee on September 26. Maguire said he contacted the White House because the president was the subject of the complaint and that it could therefore raise issues of executive privilege.
The White House and Justice Department advised Maguire to withhold the document from Congress, prompting a showdown with Schiff’s committee before Maguire eventually forwarded the complaint to lawmakers.
In his opening statement at his hearing, Maguire said, “I want to stress I believe the whistle-blower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout. I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.”
Maguire also confirmed that the substance of the whistleblower complaint is “in alignment” with the White House’s memo of Trump and Zelensky’s July call.
Former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin
Viktor Shokin was the controversial Ukrainian prosecutor-general ousted at the beginning of 2016 over allegations that he turned a blind eye to pervasive corruption.
Trump and Giuliani accused Biden of trying to protect Hunter by calling for Shokin’s ouster, but as previously noted, that narrative doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Shokin wasn’t even actively investigating Burisma at the time, and many foreign government leaders and officials – including Biden – urged Shokin to be fired based on his ineffectiveness as a prosecutor, not because he posed a threat to Burisma.
Western diplomats also say he essentially shut down one such investigation into Burisma’s founder in the UK by refusing to cooperate with authorities. Bloomberg also reported that the Burisma investigation was largely dormant when Biden called for Shokin to be fired.
Former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko
Yuriy Lutensko, a former member of parliament, served as Ukraine’s prosecutor general from 2016 until August of 2019 after Shokin’s ouster.
Earlier this year Lutsenko clearly said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of US presidential elections,” Lutsenko said. “Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws … at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.”
Lutensko is now the subject of an investigation by Ukrainian officials as to whether he used the power of his office to “provide cover” for illegal gambling activities, USA Today and the Guardian recently reported.
- Read more: Newly revealed text messages show Trump diplomats’ internal turmoil over his pressure on Ukraine 2 top Trump deputies drafted a statement for Ukraine’s president committing him to pursuing political investigations for Trump The 2nd Trump whistleblower is an IRS official who alleges a Treasury Department political appointee tried to interfere with Trump’s tax audit As Trump rages about corruption, his State Department has proposed drastically cutting its anticorruption program